The routine in the community was delightful, and I immediately felt comfortable with these men and their shaved heads. Conqueror roamed freely among the key seekers who took an immediate liking to the crippled, old horse, spoiling him with rice and honey cakes they saved from their meals, which stretched the rules a bit! The six-kilometer walk to the village and back was filled with clacking bamboo groves, large feathery ferns, and pungent odors of the jungle hanging here and there. We walked past orchids and blossoms of every description closing in on the path with monkeys frolicking in the trees, side by side with beautifully colored, hook-beaked birds, while on the ground tiny barking deer and large eared squirrels busily scurried to complete their important rounds.

One day, months later, we were returning from the village when Weeja motioned me to join him. We continued walking in silence for a while, with me walking a little behind out of courtesy, and then the leader quietly said, "There are two steps you must now take while practicing the inner work, each step as important as the other. The concentration, culminating in the Great Calms, is but step one. Do not become attached to the inner-peace of these Calms, or your progress toward the key will stop. Now you must use that concentrated mind to investigate. Be very careful of the calm, concentrated mind, however, because it becomes so seductive you will prefer to remain relaxed in the calms and their exquisite peacefulness instead of exerting yourself to cut through with Investigation. But this cutting through must be done to ready yourself for the final step of Insight, otherwise, you will never slay the Great Dragon of Atta."

This was the extent of the teacher's advice, and I was still unsure about how to proceed with this practice of investigation. Later, after the meal, it was too hot to go inside my hut so I sat underneath and pondered this investigation - what to investigate and how to do it? Suddenly I remembered the sketch from the holy man on the mountain and ran up the steps to retrieve it. I studied it again. First, there was a man. Next to the man was an illustration of the man's head with four more pictures above, as if each picture was a separate part of the man's mind. The first picture was of a hand in a fire. The second portrayed the same hand that was apparently burned and painful. The third depicted the man looking at his burned hand, and the fourth was a picture of the man cooking something on the fire. I became increasingly confused as I looked at the puzzle and finally put it away. When the time was right, the answer would come.

That night during my inner work a vision appeared. It was a short piece of rope with both ends frayed, accompanied by the words, "You come apart at the end."

Weeja gave a talk in the candlelight the next evening to the assembled men under his hut: "Understand that it is the Calms which aid and support the development of wisdom, and the extent to which it aids wisdom depends on the strength of the Calms. The Calms, which can be coarse, adequate or refined, will thereby promote wisdom that will likewise be coarse, adequate, or refined. Therefore, it is in your best interests to develop these Calms to the highest degree possible without becoming attached to them. If we become attached, which is so easy to do because of the peace the Calms induce, we will be hesitant to move forward with the work of Investigation. Investigation is the work that is crucial if we are to ever acquire the refined wisdom necessary to free us from our cycles of birth and death."

I was again impressed by the silence maintained by these assembled men. Only the sounds of the jungle could be heard, and even these sounds seemed to magically disappear as the master spoke.

But then I thought that I heard horses - perhaps my imagination? No, I wasn't imagining things, two men slipped quietly out of the dark night and into the back of the area. I couldn't make them out, but they definitely were not key seekers.

With my attention riveted on these strangers, I tried to concentrate on what Weeja was saying, "How do we investigate? To begin with, we must look closely at our bodies and our minds. We will start with our body and look carefully as if we are looking at another's body, not our own, because our own body is too precious to us at this point for an honest evaluation."

I still could not make out the two men standing in the back. They purposely remained in the shadows of the candlelight.

"You must look closely at this body," Weeja said, as he pointed to his chest, arms, legs, and head. He then smiled and looked into the eyes of each man assembled there. Looking at each man took some time but was very powerful, and was a teaching in itself for me. It indicated that patience would be required with whatever he was about to tell us.

"Here we have animal things," he continued, "teeth, skin, fingernails and toenails; body hair and head hair. But we do not consider ourselves to be animals, and therefore we regard these things as being beautiful when they are attached to our bodies - our beautiful hair and nails. When they drop off from the body, however, what is more disgusting than a nail clipping in our bowl of rice, or a hair in our soup, or for that matter a dead, week-old body decaying in the jungle heat with animals and insects feasting on it?

We must therefore investigate to see the actual truth of this body we hold so dear. Can we admit that this body is simply soft tissue and bones? What is substantial here? What is here to become enamored with, or fret over? This body does not go further than this bone in my arm and that is the end of it. And if the bones in the body are removed, what then remains? All that remains is a bucket of slush. Then, if all the water in this bucket of slush were removed as well, what would be left? Only a jar of dust. And when the dust blows away?"

He took some ashes from an incense burner next to his seat and put them in the palm of his hand. Then, with his eyes twinkling, blew them away holding up his empty palm, and again looking into every man's eyes as he smiled broadly. When his eyes reached me, I was surprised to find tears welling up for no particular reason. The powerful presence of this shriveled up, old man somehow released me from this prison of a body for one, brief incredible moment. How can these things be explained?

The sound of horses hooves broke the tranquil mood as one of the two men who was hiding in the back rode swiftly away. The other man stepped into the light for just a moment, long enough for me to see that he was wearing the robes of a kingdom priest.

"Look at this bag of skin on my belly," continued Weeja, "and see that right underneath are many strange things. A tube from my mouth reaches down into a stomach filled with undigested food, and further down are bowels and feces. A diaphragm pushes air back and forth in the lungs and kidneys strain out poisons while the heart relentlessly pumps blood.

"Do not be alarmed by looking directly at these things, and try not to be disgusted by them. This is what we are. This is what our past kamma earned us this time around.

"But there is a great problem with this body; we cannot count on it. It does not obey us and goes about its business without considering what we want and in the end, will go the way of the elements, and disappear without our approval whether we like it or not. It does not follow our schedule; it follows its own schedule.

"This body is like a comfortable house built near a raging river. Since we must live in this house knowing full well that a flood could wash it away at any moment, it would be foolish to become careless and unobservant in such a house that is threatened with disaster at any time. It would be unwise not to consider escape routes because when the time comes to leave, how could we ever get out safely in time. Therefore, since we cannot rely on this impermanent body of ours, we should invest in something that we can trust in, a life raft that will transport us when our body fails which is not long from now. Life goes by very quickly and a flood could come at any moment."

A cat jumped into Weeja's lap, and he smiled broadly, petting it and interrupting his dissertation to give complete attention to the animal, as if his talk was not the least bit important compared to the little creature that was now his center of interest. It purred contentedly, knowing, as I did, that we were in the hands of someone we could trust.

Weeja gazed at the community gathered under his hut for a few minutes, never in a hurry, and then quietly continued, "In the mean time, we must live with these strange things we are made of because this is the body best suited to help us exhaust our past kamma. We must realize, however, that this crude form is not our true being. It is merely a temporary body with enough awareness to express our particular consciousness at this time. We are all in the same boat, not any of us much different than others anywhere in the world - eating, sleeping, working, raising families, amusing ourselves - and each in our own way struggling toward happiness.

"Now, getting back to this body, where can I find ‘myself' inside of it? Who or what is Weeja? Am I inside my finger? Probably not, because if I lose my finger, I will still be Weeja. If I lose my arm, will I still be me? Yes, I am not merely my arm. What if my entire body was gone except my mind? I would still be Weeja, would I not? Then Weeja must be in my mind. Yes, that is where I am!"

It was clever how he tried to find Weeja by negation, although it was something I would have to think about.

I glanced suddenly at the stranger in the back and caught him staring at me. He looked away quickly.

"So, now we must discover how this mind of ours works," Weeja proclaimed.

Everyone was completely attentive when Weeja spoke, eyes glued to the master. He apparently instilled complete confidence in those that lived with him and he was now apparently addressing things that were coming up in everybody's practice, bogging them down with no apparent way out. Moreover, since teachers instruct at the level of their students, these robed men must be quite advanced. He stopped for a few minutes to drink some water, looking at everybody and smiling in his fatherly way. This was not the smile of an insecure man; it was a smile of a man who knew . . . and wanted us to know as well.

He finished the water and continued, "So, since we cannot find Weeja in this body, he must reside in the mind. Is this true? This is what we must find out by observing this mind as we search for Weeja. Now, what is it that we will discover?

"What we will discover upon our investigations is that this mind is made up of four aspects; the aspect of contact when something first comes into the field of consciousness of one of our sense organs - that moment when we initially taste, smell, touch, see, hear, or think something - just that first moment. This moment is then replaced instantaneously by the second moment; feeling - you will feel a certain way because of contact with a sense organ; you will feel good, which creates desire; bad, which creates aversion; or neutral, which creates indifference. This feeling is then almost simultaneously taken over by memory - the mind will try to recognize the contact from memory or, if it is a new contact, file it away for future reference. Finally, imaginings and rambling thoughts will play around with the contact, creating various emotions and coming up with ideas and plans."

I looked back at the stranger. It had been many years but I was almost certain that he was one of the priests of Ayatana, famous in the kingdom for making missionary rounds to distant regions. Did he recognize me? (To be continued)

Author's Bio: 

E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-nine years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit www.AYearToEnlightenment.com